Feast of the Immaculate Conception

December 4, 2009

Next Tuesday we celebrate the great feast of the Immaculate Conception. Solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, this doctrine tells us that from the first moment of her conception Mary was free from original sin. Some non-Catholic Christians think that this doctrine makes too great a claim for Mary, but in truth it makes the greatest claim for her Son. Mary’s sinlessness is not her doing but his – it is the power of his cross and resurrection retroactively applied that means that she is conceived without sin. The feast is a celebration of the saving love of Jesus.

Mary is an important character as we journey through Advent. We know that Advent is a time of joyful expectation – both for Christmas which celebrates the first coming of Christ but also for the end of time when Christ will come again in glory. We journey with Mary to the birth of her child – watching and waiting with her for that birth. But we are also watching and waiting with her for the return of Jesus in glory. May the holy and immaculate Mother of God pray for us all.

CAFOD’s Harvest Fast Day

October 3, 2009

The recession is affecting us all in different ways: we may be concerned about our jobs or our mortgages, we may have cut back on our foreign holidays or eating out, we may be wondering how public spending cuts are going to affect our school. All these are legitimate concerns and we are right to feel angry with those whose reckless pursuit of money has caused this financial crisis. But for the poor in the third world the situation is much bleaker. There the recession is a cause of hunger before it is a cause for anger. Families who have worked hard to earn meagre wages and a modicum of stability find those things now completely imperilled.

That’s why today we need to step aside from our concerns and think of those who are in much greater distress. CAFOD’s Harvest Fast day gives us the chance to show our solidarity with those have been hit hardest of all in the present crisis. We may now have less but they are lucky to have next to nothing. As well as digging into our purses and wallets we also have to dig into our consciences: is it right that the world’s resources are so unfairly shared. In a little while the politicians will be canvassing for our votes in the General Election. We need to ask them how they propose to make Britain, but more importantly, the world fairer and more just. P.D.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14th September )

September 11, 2009

On Monday we celebrate a feast with the rather grand title of ‘The Exaltation of the Holy Cross’. This is one of the oldest feasts in the calendar but for now I don’t want to go into its history so much as its meaning and relevance for us today. 

The cross is central to the Christian message. We know from contemporary accounts that crucifixion was a particularly brutal form of execution. But also we believe that the second person of the Trinity became man and died for our salvation in this brutal way. Monday’s feast focuses on the wonderful fact that this barbaric instrument of torture has been transformed by the power of God into the means of eternal life. 

Perhaps we’ve become too used to the schmaltz of ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ for us not to have to do a little rethinking and repraying about this feast. The hymns of Venantius Fortunatus are useful correctives. What comes across in them is not a lament for the dead Jesus but a celebration of the death-conquering Christ.  

The feast can be summed up in the words of the Liturgy: ‘Lord by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free, you are the Saviour of the world’.                   P.D.


September 4, 2009

There are three birthdays commemorated in the Church’s Calendar: that of Christ at Christmas, St John the Baptist’s in August, and that of Our Lady which we celebrate on Tuesday. We often find these three depicted in paintings and icons because all three are central to the mystery of the incarnation. We do not believe in a God who is distant from this world, who is above earthly cares and concerns. We are not called to be disembodied beings – that role is for the angels. Our humanity is not an obstacle to our holiness but rather its precondition and possibility.
Because in Christ God has taken on our human nature our human nature is for ever linked to the divine. Feasts like the one we celebrate on Tuesday call us back to the profound truth of the incarnation. Mary was born like one of us, though without sin, and had to grow in her knowledge and understanding. Paintings often show the child Mary learning to read at the knee of St Anne her mother.
As we begin a new term we can reflect on the high, God given vocation that is teaching. Mary had to be taught and so did Jesus. Both in their turn taught those around them. Our quest for knowledge is one of the things that makes us truly human, and as such it also leads to God who is the source of all wisdom.